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A clash of identity and ability- where teachers begin to wobble.

One of the broad ideas I touched on in my PhD thesis (you can read it here, should you so wish!) was how individuals’ understanding of themselves internally affected how they interacted with others and ultimately, their identity in a social setting. In that context, I looked at young people’s dyslexia. However, this week after reading lots of posts on Facebook and Twitter, I start to think that there are significant crises of identity and ability experienced by teachers, and it’s just not good! Before starting back at school this week, many of my teacher-friends have doubted themselves, confessed to ‘impostor syndrome’ and posted about their pre-work anxieties.

I’ve just started a new job at a lovely new school, with lovely colleagues and although I’ve yet to teach my first class (that’s tomorrow), I’ve found the kids grand so far. I’ve more than 10 years’ experience, working in settings with wobbly kids, wobbly parents, tricky home lives, or where there are millionaires’ children sitting in front of me. From that experience, I really can say that kids are kids and they inhabit the same world. To the same effect, my views of my capacity as a teacher seem to be the same, wherever I work. I always question myself, wonder shudda/wudda/cudda and sometimes keep myself up into the small hours with internal debate as to whether I’m rubbish or such-and-such a pupil is just having a bit of a phase at the moment, or whether year 9s the world over are stroppy, last lesson on a Friday afternoon? This dialogue does me no good if it becomes a broken-record, eating away at my self-confidence and self-esteem. If that becames the case, and continued for an extended period, then I would end up in a really bad way. I am lucky- I have enough resilience to be able to step back and see that I am a good teacher. My kids’ results are good and young people seem to enjoy lessons with me. Reflection helps with this, but not to the detriment of my own mental health or well-being.

I do believe that personal and professional reflection are powerful tools in the teachers’ kit-bag. Working out what year 10 found difficult about quadratic equations or why year 7 don’t gel with a certain novel can lead to changes in practice and to those students making better progress. But, and this is an important ‘but’: this is in the context of a teacher who is confident in their practice and who feels supported. I have been generally lucky in this, but luck shouldn’t figure. Teachers deserve to feel valued and confident so that impostor syndrome,  lack of confidence and self-doubt are not allowed to enter their frames of reference. This will help teachers, which will ultimately benefit our kids’ learning and progress. And who doesn’t want the best for the kids- I know that’s why I became a teacher.

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